For many non-native Japanese, the idea of working in Japan is exciting or even a dream. And it’s easy to understand why. Japan remains the world’s third-largest economy, a country where tradition and high technology come together and a culture now admired and venerated worldwide. Pre-COVID, Japan was even the fastest-growing tourist market in the world.
At the time of writing, Japan is emerging and both tourism and the job market are getting back into gear. But for would-be workers in Japan, understanding the intricate differences in the job-hunting process, which documents are required and how to put them together are all non-negotiable musts.
In this article, we’ll explore the importance of the Rirekisho and Shokumukeirekisho, what they entail and why they are requested, how they differ from Western-style resumes and, most importantly, how to write them successfully!
A Rirekisho (literally ‘record of experience’) is the Japanese equivalent of a resume or CV in English-speaking countries. It includes basic information like your name, address, and education, but also sections where you can write about your work experience, skills, and qualifications. It may even be handwritten in some cases and requires considerable detail.
A Shokumukeirekisho (‘details of job-specific history’), conversely, resembles a cover letter in English-speaking countries. Its purpose is to introduce yourself to the potential employer and explain why you are applying for a specific job. It should be tailored to the job for which you are applying for and explain why you are the right person for the position.
Compared to the Western equivalents, a Rirekisho can be thought of as a combination of a resume and a job application, while a Shokumukeirekisho, as aforementioned, is like a cover letter.
Job-hunting is very competitive in Japan. Students, for example, often start the process well before graduation day. But one key difference to the job hunt in Japan is the emphasis on the self-promotion section of the Japanese-style resume or Rirekusho. It is comparable to the cover letter in Western-style resumes, but spotlights the applicant’s personal qualities. Note that so-called blowing your own trumpet is not the preferred approach. The idea is rather to convey a sense of humility while presenting personal and experiences.
The section is often known as the “reason for applying” and it gives applicants their best opportunity to explain why they are interested in the position and what they can bring to the company. For this reason, you may well want to focus on this above all other sections as the potential deal-breaker for the dream job you want.
This is another question candidates often ask. Even some foreign companies with offices in Japan may require sets of documents in both languages. While it may seem like a hassle to prepare two sets of documents, it’s important to remember that Japan is still largely a monolingual country. The HR staff of Japanese companies in particular may lack the English language skills necessary to understand Western-style resumes.
For applicants, providing both Japanese and English documents will increase their chances of being understood by all members of the hiring team. The icing on the cake is showing fluency in both languages as well as willingness to adapt to the cultural norms of Japan and the company to which you’re applying.
It’s also important to ensure that the Japanese version of your resume is not simply a word-for-word translation of your English original. Instead, it should be tailored specifically for the Japanese target companies and their culture. This means you may need to emphasize different aspects of your experience and skills and adjust the formatting and style to be more in line with Japanese standards.
Formatting aside, there are other notable differences. For example, Japanese-style resumes require a professional headshot and it has to tick some pretty specific boxes. A white shirt and dark-colored suit jacket are favored. Makeup and hair styling should be understated. Japanese-style resumes also include personal information that is typically excluded from Western-style resumes, such as birthdate, marital status and details of any dependents.
Another key difference between the Japanese and foreign work style is the mindset. In Japan, there is a strong emphasis on loyalty and dedication to the company. Japanese employees often work long hours and prioritize company needs over their own. This mindset also emerges in the job-hunting process itself, where applicants are expected to show a strong motivation for the specific company and the position they are applying for.
The interview process in Japan also differs from Western-style interviews. Japanese interviews often involve multiple rounds and may include group interviews or written tests. It’s important to research the company and the specific interview process beforehand to be fully prepared.
As you will have seen above, job hunting in Japan is a very different ball game. The whole process and the documents you need for it are unique, since Japanese-style resumes and work experience documents differ significantly from their Western counterparts. But worry not! Understanding these differences and complying with the expected format can give you the edge you need to land your dream job.
And remember, it’s not just about the paperwork. Japanese work culture and interview processes can also be very different from what you might be used to. But with the right mindset and approach, you can stand out from the crowd and succeed in your Japan job search.
If you’re ready to take the next step and find your perfect job in Japan, register on our career page today. Our team is here to support you every step of the way.